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What to Expect at an Uncoupling Ritual or Divorce Ceremony

Published Monday, Aug. 21st, 2023

Image: Atlas Illustrations / Adobe Stock

What is ‘uncoupling,’ and what can you expect at a friend’s divorce ceremony or separation ritual? 



The first time you heard about ‘uncoupling’ was probably in 2014, when Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin announced they’d consciously uncoupled and introduced the concept to the mainstream:


“To change the concept of divorce, we need to release the belief structures we have around marriage that create rigidity in our thought process. The belief structure is the all-or-nothing idea that when we marry, it’s for life. The truth is, the only thing any of us have is today. Beyond that, there are no guarantees… 


If we can recognize that our partners in our intimate relationships are our teachers, helping us evolve our internal, spiritual support structure, we can avoid the drama of divorce and experience what we call a conscious uncoupling.” 


(excerpt from ‘Conscious Uncoupling’, Goop, March 2014)


At that time, ‘conscious uncoupling’ was met with a collective eye-roll – a mix of skepticism, curiosity, mockery, and disbelief. The concept, we learned, is based on a detailed therapeutic method, and has something to do with spiritual exoskeletons and mystical insects and other metaphors that most of us can’t really follow. Some people thought it was a media stunt, some applauded it, others just thought it was very… Well, Gwyneth. 


But these days, uncoupling barely raises an eyebrow and divorce ceremonies are increasingly common. People quickly recognized that ending a relationship in an intentional and loving way was a good thing, no matter what it’s called or how esoteric the details. 


Importantly, honoring a separation is a way for former partners to demonstrate just how much they valued their marriage, even at its end.


No longer confined to the therapist’s office, the uncoupling practice has become deeply personalized. Former partners devise their own methods, tools, and rituals to highlight different circumstances and styles of separation. Although some couples still follow the five steps outlined in the original ‘conscious uncoupling’ program, many people use the term to describe any divorce or separation that’s approached conscientiously, with intention, collaboration, and an emphasis on learning and growth. 


Uncoupling rituals and divorce ceremonies can be large formal gatherings attended by friends and relatives and performed by qualified officiants, or they can be heartfelt declarations made privately between partners. They can be serious or lighthearted, spiritual or secular, and anything in between. 



Close up of a young woman removing her wedding band

Wedding in reverse: Some couples choose to return their wedding bands during an uncoupling ritual as a symbol of their marriage ending.



What to Expect at an Uncoupling Ritual or Divorce Ceremony


Most of us will be invited to (or hear about) at least one separation ritual for a friend or relative over the years. The ritual might be called an ‘uncoupling ceremony,’ ‘uncoupling service,’ ‘divorce ceremony,’ ‘marriage dissolution ceremony,’ ‘separation ritual,’ or something else, depending on the nature of the previous relationship. 


These unique ceremonies give former spouses the opportunity to honor their marriage vows – those promises to love, cherish respect, and support each other – even though their romantic relationship is over.


As a type of ‘life cycle ritual,’ they honor the transition between the love that was and the future that awaits. They bring closure to the couple and their families, and welcome happiness and joy into each person’s lives as they move forward. For many people, these ceremonies are a way to honor how important their marriage or relationship was, and is, even in its ending. 



Sharing spiritual lessons


One of the guiding principles of ‘conscious uncoupling' is that a romantic partner is a type of spiritual teacher, and that relationships provide spiritual and practical lessons. 


During a divorce ceremony or uncoupling ritual, participants might take turns thanking each other for the lessons they’ve received in marriage, describe what they’ve learned and how they’ve grown, and release each other from the partnership with love.


Examples of spiritual lessons and words of gratitude: 


“Thank you for teaching me how to take myself less seriously, and for helping me learn to trust someone again.” 


“Our marriage taught me that love can be safe and feel like home, that love is healing, and that love doesn’t have to stay the same shape to be true and lasting.”


“I release you from worry and promise that my heart is whole and at peace.”



A young woman stands outdoors with her hand resting on her heart, smiling at a memory. She's wearing a black dress and a pink hat.

Sharing spiritual lessons during an uncoupling ritual can be joyful, cathartic, and bittersweet, as each partner remembers the happy moments and valuable lessons they've learned in marriage.



Exchanging new vows


Some former spouses will exchange new promises or ‘divorce vows’ to take the place of their marriage vows as they separate and move forward. These promises are similar to those spoken at a wedding. They usually reflect each person’s values and their hopes for the future as they uncouple.


Examples of Divorce Vows / Uncoupling Vows: 


“I promise to respect and trust you. I will strive every day to be an amazing and united co-parent with you.” 


“When we married, I never expected we’d make this transition. But my heart is whole in the knowledge that we both gave our all every step of the way. I vow to honor the work we’ve done, the lessons we’ve learned, and the love we shared. I will never regret marrying you, and I am blessed to have walked so long beside you.”


“I vow to accept and welcome the changes life brings us as we become independent and loving friends.” 


“I promise to look back on our marriage with a generous heart. I promise to seek the good in our love and memories, and to operate on the principles of love.”


“As we follow separate paths to new adventures, I’m so grateful for the time we’ve spent side by side and heart to heart. Those years hold me in the light. I want so much happiness for you, so much laughter and discovery, travel, love, and comfort. It has been a gift to love and be loved by you, and although I will miss what was, I welcome what will be.” 


“I vow to never talk you down to our children and to be respectful of you and your family in our interactions.”


“I promise to let go of all my old ideas about us and our marriage, so that I can get to know us now, as individuals.”



An officiant performs a cleansing ritual during a divorce ceremony by burning sage and using a feather to waft the smoke over a man in a red shirt, who stands with his arms out

Cleansing rituals, like the one above, are sometimes performed by an officiant as part of a divorce ceremony or uncoupling ritual as a way of saying goodbye to the past, and clearing out the negativity of the past to make room for positive energy and happiness in the future.


Celebrants and Ceremony Structure


Divorce ceremonies and other separation rituals are often led by a knowledgeable officiant or celebrant. This might be the couple’s minister, a community elder, a spiritual guide, or a close friend or relative.


There are no legal requirements for celebrants leading a symbolic separation ceremony, but many do become ordained to demonstrate their respect for the role.



Related: How to Become a Wedding Celebrant & Officiate a Wedding for the First Time


There are no set rules for an uncoupling ceremony, however a few elements are common:


At the start of the ceremony, the celebrant will welcome guests and explain the purpose and significance of the event. They might begin with a few details about the participants' journey together and their time as a married (or partnered) couple. 


Next, the celebrant will ask the former partners if they have anything they’d like to express to each other. The participants might share new promises that replace their marriage vows and their interactions going forward, gratitude for lessons learned during the marriage, or other meaningful messages. 


If spiritual elements like meditation, prayer, visualization, song, or cleansing rituals (smudging, spiritual bathing, etc) are included in the ceremony, the celebrant will explain each element before it happens. Guests might be asked to join the couple in meditation or prayer, or to participate in other ways as a show of support.


Related: Spiritual Bathing - Performing Ritual Baths for Yourself & Others


The celebrant will close the ceremony with blessings for the future as the participants transition into their new lives. 


The Takeaway

Divorce ceremonies, separation services, and uncoupling rituals honor the marriage that was by bringing closure to the couple in a loving way. 

The ceremony might be private or public (attended by guests), and might include various elements such as the exchange of new vows, meditation, prayer, spiritual bathing, cleansing rituals, and more. These ceremonies are often performed by an officiant or celebrant who is close to the couple.

Some uncoupling rituals are followed by receptions and parties, similar to those following a wedding.




Wait, why are we talking about uncoupling and separation rituals on American Weddings?


We spend a lot of time talking about wedding ceremonies here on the American Weddings blog. This makes sense... Wedding ceremonies (and wedding officiants) are awesome! And they’re our primary focus and passion. 
But AMM Ministers don’t just marry people. When they choose to, their roles can extend much further, supporting their communities in important ways, including rites for every part of the life cycle. This deserves to be highlighted.
Ordination through American Marriage Ministries gives our ministers all of the same rights and protections held by ministers ordained through traditional brick-and-mortar churches.
As an AMM Minister (or Reverend, Pastor, or Officiant, whatever title you choose), your right to conduct religious ceremonies of all forms is protected by the religious non-establishment clause of the first amendment. While many of our ministers only conduct wedding ceremonies, others also conduct baptisms, funerals, naming ceremonies, uncoupling and divorce ceremonies, and other meaningful rites. 

  • Learn more about what it means to be an AMM Minister by visiting our FAQ page. 



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Spiritual baths and ritual bathing have been used by cultures and faiths throughout history. Learn how to prepare and perform ritual baths for yourself and others. Read the full article here. 



Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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